I'm surprised. I lie in a T-shirt in the sun, a mild breeze blows around my nose. Next to me lies Peter, reading and similarly lightly dressed, Ena and Jens walking dreamily through the wonderfully gentle landscape. It is the penultimate day of our journey through the Nordic wilderness, and everyone is positively surprised. Actually, the whole tour was a series of surprises, but this one is out of the ordinary.
It all began when Peter and I, in our role as guides, arrived one day earlier to do some errands and to leave for the wilderness the next day, after the arrival of the first pilot, with the participants arriving with them. The first surprise was our missing luggage. We stood in the pouring rain in front of the Lulea Airport - without luggage! - and no one could tell us where it had gone. Imagine our excitement, worrying the next day without equipment and telling the arriving participants that the tour might not take place. The fact that the airport staff waved relaxed and had nothing more to contribute to our misery than a laconic "It will be on the next plane" was also not very helpful.
But they were right. After a worried night we collected Ena AND OUR LUGGAGE from the first plane, picked Jens, who had already arrived the day before, from the hotel and drove with a silent driver and in surprisingly good weather towards our destination - the UNESCO World Heritage Laponia. After about 5 hours driving through the flat and endless coniferous forests of Lapland we saw for the first time the partly rugged, partly gentle mountains of the Skanden and with constant approach to our entry into this last wilderness of Europe the anticipation grew with all participants.
When we got so close that we could already identify parts of our tour, the next surprise was revealed. At the end of June the mountains were still covered with snow on a scale we had never experienced before. Peter and I exchanged worried looks - what if some passages of the tour were still impassable?
Our brooding, however, was interrupted by the arrival at the destination and thus by our first small boat trip. We showed Ena and Jens the entry point, from where we had to cross a piece of lake to reach the foot of the mountain, whose high plateau should be our destination for the day. We paddled, packed, started our ascent and were surprised by a wind on the plateau that almost pushed us down the mountain again. But even if it didn't make our progress any easier, the view was breathtaking. Behind us stretched to the horizon of the boreal coniferous forest, crossed by lakes and rivers, and in front of us the snow-covered mountains of Laponia reared up. We found a halfway wind-protected spot on the slope, pitched our tents and spent our first bright night in the wilderness.
The next morning the wind hadn't gotten any less and should accompany us almost during the whole tour. After breakfast, which we spent snuggled up behind a protective rock, we set off. In front of us lay the snow-free plateau, at the end of which a steeply incised Kerbtal was waiting to be crossed by us. From a distance we could see large snowfields and Peter and I were still worried that we would encounter unexpected obstacles. The closer we got to the valley, the rougher the landscape became. Where before grass and moss covered the ground, big boulders rose out of the ground. Surprisingly, the snow turned out to be helpful, as it partially covered the boulders that appeared everywhere, the crossing of which otherwise required a lot of concentration. Slowly but steadily the valley rose and after some effort we reached the small plateau, which was waiting for us at its end. At the latest here we all felt like we were right in the middle of this rough and deserted mountain landscape. In front of us the slope fell steeply and opened the view to a deeply incised river valley lined by high peaks, behind us the sea glistened in the distance, which we had crossed yesterday. The rough and cold wind didn't allow us to stay longer. After about two hours of laborious crossing the slope we reached flatter terrain and pitched our tents between the countless small lakes and ponds.
From our campsite we had a wonderful view of the Ruonas, a mountain like a huge boulder, whose southern flank rises gently from a high plateau, while its northern flank plunges vertically into the depth until it reaches the bottom of said valley. We wanted to climb it the next day and we did. After we had climbed the plateau, we threw our luggage behind a rock and almost danced up the mountain, happy to be rid of the heavy weight. The panorama from up here was one of the most impressive of the tour. Deep at our feet the river meandered through a green valley and 360 degrees around us the inhospitable mountain world rose up. We could have spent hours here, but there was still a long way to go. Especially the next kilometres were exciting for us guides, because during our exploring tour we groped through thick fog. In our memory the way down to the valley and the following ascent to the next plateau was exhausting and hard to find.
But - surprise - with good visibility we found the gently descending channel, which we had looked for so long during the last tour, at first go. After we had waded through some tributaries, we gathered strength at the sparkling and crystal clear upper reaches of the river, which we had seen meandering through the valley from Ruonas. To our luck the sun shone for a short moment, so that we could have a longer break between circling sea eagles and reindeer herds, whose young animals obviously turned pirouettes for fun on the snow fields.
That was also necessary, because in front of us lay the steepest ascent of the tour. A vertical and wet slope, which we climbed step by step. Our goal for the day was the first lake we wanted to paddle. It lies in a narrow valley between high mountains that are still covered with snow. So we hiked over the green plateau, crossed by streams, in a mixture of sunshine and short showers. The closer we got to the lake, the rockier the ground became and the more stormy the wind became. Jens and Peter had fallen back quite a bit in the meantime when Ena and I were able to take the first look at the lake.
And here awaited us the next big surprise. The lake was still completely frozen. A crossing in Packraft was out of the question, a hike after the exhausting day was out of the question and we couldn't put up a tent in the scree or in the wind. So we walked a good way back until we reached a place that was halfway sheltered from the wind and level, set up our tents, huddled together behind a stone to eat something and disappeared into our tents. The wind that night was so strong that my tent poles bent into an S.
The next cold and windy morning: So the lake was frozen over. So be it. And the boats stayed in their backpacks for another day and we walked around the lake, at the end of which the valley narrows further, until we reached a relatively steep gorge, in which a stream flows that feeds the lake. To its left and right, the area that was still suitable for walking was completely covered with snow. We fought our way through the snow fields in wind and rain and reached the highest point when suddenly the sun broke out of the clouds.
It is incredible how in this area the sun decides whether you are in the Shire or in Mordor. A landscape that seconds ago seems inhospitable and hostile to life is suddenly the sweetest place on earth. We paused, took photos and stupid jokes and set off for the last leg of today. Tomorrow we should finally be able to put our Packrafts in the water.
The next day was friendly at first, but the closer we got to Sarek, the more the sky darkened. When we reached the highest point of the day's stage, we saw what Peter and I had already suspected. The glaciers of Sarek seemed to attract the bad weather from the whole area.
Like a pot lid, a dense black cloud lay exactly over the valley where we wanted to climb into the first river. One can imagine that moving out in such weather was not an attractive view. Nevertheless, we descended to the river Alep and just at the moment we dropped our backpacks the sun came out. In no time at all we saddled our boats and started the first stage on this completely untouched wilderness river. We let ourselves drift and enjoyed the panorama, then we had to step on the gas again to get through the partly strong rapids, and had covered a distance within shortest time, for which we would have needed loosely half a day on foot. Shortly before the waterfall, which falls into the much deeper lake and which is also called the gate to the Sarek, we climbed out and set up the most wind-protected camp of the tour so far.
The next day we jumped directly into our paddle gear, shouldered our boats and carried around the short piece of waterfall, before entering the Milädnö directly. One of the most beautiful and untouched rivers I know - Packrafting makes it possible. Until the point where Peter tore a hole in his boat in a rapids and we had to operate on a gravel bank, the day flew by. But even after that we splashed along and had fun in the regularly recurring white water until we got to our exit point. Here we started our first fire of the tour and sat for a long time in the never setting evening sun, watching reindeer crossing rivers and chatting.
The following day also began promisingly. For the entrance into the Ladejakka we had to walk another two hours through typical Lapland willow bushes and swamps until we arrived unerringly below a mighty waterfall where we watered the boats. During the day, however, the weather worsened and after we had the second capsize at a massive spot on the speedometer, it was clear that we didn't want to paddle the river to its mouth in the Viviaure, a large lake. So we took shelter in the first hut of the whole tour, warmed up and hiked in the rain for the first time on a hiking trail. It is unbelievable how fast you can get on when you don't have to look for the way anymore.
Towards evening the weather improved again and we camped just above the Viviaure drain. Here the "lake" had current again and also the last paddle stage of our tour passed with fun and speed.
We cleaned the boats and at two o'clock in the afternoon we climbed up the slope a bit, when we came to a quite large hollow with birch trees, which looked so protected and cosy, that we decided to stay here. And here we lie, in a T-shirt, enjoying the sun and the wonderful landscape around us and are surprised that we are warm although we don't move and don't wear everything we took with us. The fire is crackling and the usual melancholy that always grips me when I know that my time in this untouched and unique landscape is over. Even though Lapland is not always friendly, sometimes inhospitable and hard, it has a strange beauty that I have never seen anywhere else. I'll be back - I promise!
Jannis, co-leader of the expedition tour participant of the expedition Laponia of 2015, wilderness guide, biologist and rarely to be seen without binoculars, with which he indulges his passion, ornothology. Read more about Jannis here.